Newly-elected Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has reversed a planned tuition hike that touched off months of violent protests in Canada’s French-speaking province.
Marois, who started her job on Thursday, delivered on her electoral pledge to reinstate the USD 2,220 tuition.
“The new government is now in place,” she told reporters after the first cabinet meeting. “I intend to act rapidly to offer results to Quebecers, starting today, Day One of our mandate.”
The former premier, Jean Charest, had planned to increase tuition fees in a bid to make up for the country’s budget deficit.
Marois said she will also cancel the Liberals’ controversial anti-protest law, known as Bill 78. The draconian law, whose main objective was to restrict freedom of assembly, criminalizes students’ strike and sets rules for gatherings of more than 50 people, requiring organizers to provide an eight-hour notice of the itinerary and length of the event.
“These two decisions will allow us to return peace to our streets and to reestablish rights and liberties,” Marois was quoted as saying.
The new premier’s move drew applause from student groups.
“It’s a victory for justice and equality,” said Martine Desjardins, president of the FEUQ university student association.
“Together, we have written a chapter in the history of Quebec. Together, we have just proven that we can stand up and reach one of the student movement’s greatest victories,” he added.
Ahead of elections earlier this month, Marois had said that if her party – Parti Quebecois (PQP) – won and was able to form a new Quebec government, she would call for a referendum on the separation of Quebec from Canada.
- University of Montreal cancels classes for fear of protest (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The separatist Parti Quebecois has won Quebec’s regional elections and will form a new government there, once again raising the possibility of a referendum on independence being held in Canada’s French-speaking province.
Canadian Broadcasting Corp and the Canadian Press reported that Parti Quebecois (PQ) won or were leading in nearly 60 districts, just short of the 63 needed for a majority government.
The party’s leader, Pauline Marois, will replace head of the Liberal party, Jean Charest, as the province’s leader, becoming Quebec’s first female premier.
Crowds of jubilant PQ followers, cheered and waved flags as election results indicated their party was heading back to power after nine years of Liberal Party rule.
Should PQ win a majority it will make it easier for them to call a referendum on independence. Quebec has held two referendums in the past – one in 1980 and another in 1995- with the last narrowly rejecting independence from Canada.
However PQ claim their short-term priority would be picking the economy up off its knees, instead of pushing for a separation vote straight away.
“It’s very important for me to manage our finances responsibly. That is without doubt why our engagements are the least costly of all parties,” Pauline Marois earlier told Canadian media, while outlining a program that sets out new spending at $1 billion over a five year period.
At the same time she stated that she would hold an independence vote “tomorrow morning” if the conditions were right.
The long-ruling Liberal Party’s loss comes after months of student and union protests raging this spring and summer against tuition hikes in the province and the controversial new Bill 78, which restricts mass gatherings in the province.
Tens of thousands of students have made their outrage public by demonstrating and clashing with police, making headlines across the world. Protests began in February, resulting in about 2,500 arrests. Tuesday’s vote is seen by many as an echo of this public discontent.
Administrators at the University of Montreal (UdeM), the most prestigious French-speaking University in North America, have been forced to cancel dozens of classes for the rest of the week for fear of fresh protests.
The university issued a notice in Tuesday evening, saying that it had suspended classes in the departments that have been targeted by striking students since Monday, the CBC reported.
“They were the classes that we saw in the last two days [in which] the students were giving us trouble,” said Mathieu Filion, a spokesman for the university administration.
The classes were supposed to resume this week after the winter semester was suspended following massive months-long protests across Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec against proposed tuition fee hikes.
Over Monday and Tuesday, the police stormed the university and arrested more than 30 protesters. The protest erupted following the passage of a new controversial bill, which outlawed obstructing classes and all non-pre-approved gatherings of more than 50.
Students in Quebec have been protesting university tuition hikes since February 2011. The protests later turned into a larger movement, dubbed the “maple revolution,” which, analysts say, reveals deeper social unrest.
The developments come ahead of next week’s provincial elections, which will decide whether Quebec Prime Minister Jean Charest’s ruling Liberal Party, which insists on a plan to increase tuition fees by 82 percent, could be reelected.
The latest opinion survey shows that the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ), led by Pauline Marois, is heading for a victory in the September 4 polls.
The PQ has promised to hold a referendum on the separation of Quebec from Canada if 850,000 Quebecers sign a related petition.
- Quebec police arrest 19 protesting students as classes resume (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Canadian students arrested after clashing with police (PHOTOS) (rt.com)
Police arrested 19 students Monday under the terms of Bill 78, which ordered a suspension of university classes back in May and their reinstatement in August even if the students planed to continue their strike. The bill also restricts the student demonstrations and imposes fines for those who impeded classes, starting at CAD 1,000.
The classes were supposed to resume this week, as the winter semester was suspended following massive months-long protests across Canada’s French-speaking province against proposed tuition fee hikes.
Some 2,000 students at the departments of anthropology and cinema voted to continue their protest and prevented the start of classes.
The recent protest comes ahead of next week’s provincial election, which will decide whether the province’s ruling Liberal Party, which insists on a plan to increase tuition fees by 82 percent, could be reelected.
The latest opinion poll shows that the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) led by Pauline Marois heading for a victory in the election to be held on September 4th. Marois is the protester’s favorite candidate and has been wearing the red square, the symbol of the demonstrators’ cause, on several public occasions.
If the separatist PQ is elected in the upcoming provincial election, it will consider holding a referendum on separation of Quebec from Canada.
Since February, students have been protesting against the hikes and the provincial government’s controversial anti-protest Bill 78. The protests later turned into a larger movement dubbed the “maple revolution,” which reveals deeper social unrest.
Quebec is known for swift and drastic shifts of popular opinion. From the election of the first PQ government, to the rise of the ADQ and the Orange Wave, public opinion in this province is prone to sudden reversals.
The results of the most recent poll, an online survey of 1000 Quebecois conducted between May 23 and 25 by CROP for Radio-Canada, seem to suggest we are in the midst of such a dramatic swing.
When CROP was last in the field, on May 17 and 18, they found that a whopping 68% supported the government’s proposed tuition increase, with only 32% supporting the students. The same poll found 66% supported a “special law” to help end the crisis.
The poll was roundly criticized for asking respondents about a law which had yet to be introduced, and was at that time an unknown quantity. Criticism was also levelled at its methodology. That poll, and the most recent one, were conducted using a representative online panel, which was not randomly selected and as such cannot be assigned a margin of error.
Fast forward six days, through a civil-liberties-crushing special law, the largest protest in Canadian history, and mass arrests of over 700 people, and the results are stunning.
The latest poll did not ask the same question, but instead asked who respondents felt was to blame for the crisis. 44% placed the blame on Jean Charest’s ailing government, while only 36% blamed the students. On the question of what should be done with tuition fees, the poll found 45% supported indexing them to the cost of living, 13% thought they should be frozen at current levels and 11% thought they should be abolished. Only 27% thought they should be increased beyond inflation. Add that up and 70% of the population are now opposed to the Charest government’s proposed increases.
In a period of six days, support for the proposed increases to tuition has gone from 68% to 27%, a drop of 41 percentage points.
Unsurprisingly, the poll found that 60% were opposed to Loi 78, with 42% being strongly opposed. 30% supported the law, with 11% strongly supporting it. This is a drop of 36 percentage points in support for Loi 78, but given that the first poll was conducted before details of the law were public, that’s not as surprising.
The poll also found that 49% believed mediation between the government and student federations was the best way to resolve the dispute, coming in far ahead of a new election, a moratorium or a summit on university financing.
When asked if the student federations and government had been negotiating in good faith, both received failing grades. 48% thought the government had been negotiating in bad faith, over 37% who disagreed, while 58% thought the same of student federations, with 26% disagreeing. 50% did not have faith in either the government or students to resolve the conflict, while 25% had more confidence in the government and 16% more faith in student federations.
Given that both sides have been adamant that they will not back down from their demands, this is hardly surprising.
A friend commented that this showed people “hated Charest, but hated the students more.” I think he’s off the mark. Although there is clearly a warranted pessimism that there will be a swift end to the strike, I imagine 9% more people have greater confidence in the government to resolve the issue because 70% now want the government to make major concessions. People expect the government to fold, and as such expect that this will lead to the resolution of the conflict.
I prefer to compare polls by the same company, because differences in methodology and questions can make comparison between companies difficult, but if we look at the Leger poll done for the Journal de Montreal between May 19 and 21 (prior to the mass demonstration), it really demonstrates the trendline in this province.
The question asked was, given the positions of both sides ($1625 increase vs. freeze) do you support the students or the government? The poll showed an 18% shift in support from government to students over Leger’s previous outing, ten days prior. However, it still left the government with 51% support, and the students with 43%.
The change from 51% supporting the government position to 27% is a drop of 24 percentage points. In four days.
The Leger poll also found that 47% supported Loi 78, with an equal 47% opposing it. With 60% opposition, and 42% strongly opposed in the new CROP poll, we can see that opposition to the law has grown by 13 percentage points and crystalized. Those opposed tend to feel strongly about the subject, perhaps explaining the sudden popularity of the “casseroles” phenomenon (Where Quebeckers in all parts of the province go outside each night at 8 PM to bang on pots and pans in opposition to the law)
Notwithstanding all the normal caveats about polls and their flaws, it seems clear that there is a seismic shift going on in Quebec right now. The introduction of Loi 78 was a political miscalculation of epic proportions. It contributed to hundreds of thousands pouring into the streets on Tuesday, and provoked the casseroles movement.
The protest and ongoing casseroles in turn sent a strong message to Quebeckers that all was not right. They demonstrated to those outside Montreal that this was no longer a student issue alone, but a social one which involved people of all ages. Then that crazy social solidarity I wrote about earlier this week kicked in, and people began to turn on the government en masse.
The CROP poll did not ask for voting intentions, but I will be interested to see if the next provincial poll shows improvement for the PQ, who originally proposed increasing tuition at the rate of inflation.
Assuming this is not a rogue poll, it seems clear that the Charest increase is dead in the water. Most Quebeckers now want an increase at the rate of inflation, if that. These numbers will put wind beneath the wings of tiring students, and indicate that the record for protest attendance set last Tuesday may be challenged sooner rather than later.
The open question now is, will Charest hunker down and defy public opinion in the face of what will certainly be growing protests? And if Charest does offer students an increase at the rate of inflation, does it resolve a conflict which has become about much more than tuition?
While this poll holds some negatives for the students too, Quebeckers rejection of both Loi 78 and the proposed increase will no doubt have many a glass lifting tonight wherever students and their supporters are gathered.
Rabble’s Special Correspondent on the Quebec student strike, Ethan Cox is a 28 year-old organizer, comms guy and writer from Montreal. He cut his political teeth accrediting the Dawson Student Union against ferocious opposition from the college administration and has worked as a union organizer for the Public Service Alliance of Canada. He has worked on several successful municipal and federal election campaigns, and was a member of Quebec central office staff for the NDP in the 2011 election. Most recently he served as Quebec Director and Senior Communications Advisor on Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign.
As Rabble.ca’s newly minted Special Correspondent on the Quebec student strike, you’ll be seeing me in these pages every few days with all the latest from Montreal’s streets. For more frequent updates follow me on twitter @EthanCoxMTL